Folks have been turning their attention toward Marilyn Monroe’s former Brentwood home, myself included, having penned Marilyn’s House! on this very site. I would assert that even if Fifth Helena hadn’t been Monroe’s residence, it’s such a striking 1929 Spanish house that there should have been some real work put into investigating its merit before a demolition permit was issued.
Today, though, I’m going to talk about another celebrity’s house: the late Alex Trebek’s.
You might argue that Trebek wasn’t 1/100th the star or talent Monroe was; you may be right. That said, I’d guess most people (like myself) have watched 100 times the total hours of Trebek on television than Monroe on film. And while Trebek wasn’t the titan Monroe was, at least Trebek never made anything as bad as Bus Stop.
Point being, Trebek’s house was demolished over the last couple days. More to the point, Trebek’s former home—a 1923 Spanish number by a master architect and with historical pedigree—was demolished over the last couple days, and you should know about it.
We speak of the Walter P. Story estate, more specifically known as the Major General Walter P. Story Country Estate, formerly located at 3405 North Fryman Road.
The short version of the backstory: Nelson Gile Story, of Bozeman, Montana, made a fortune in mining and cattle. He came to Los Angeles and, among his other endeavors, in 1895 purchased the southeast corner of Sixth and Broadway. This he gifted to the youngest of his three sons, Walter Perry Story.
In 1908 father and son embarked on the construction of the magnificent Walter P. Story building, designed by Morgan & Walls, and which stands to this day. Atop his eponymous building, he built a 5-room penthouse bungalow; first penthouse in Los Angeles. That penthouse bungalow was so lavish it inspired James Oviatt to build a penthouse atop his eponymous building. Here and here are images of the W. P. Story building penthouse in 1945 (though I have not seen its contemporary state personally, I have on good authority its interior is today nothing but graffiti and trash).
In 1921 W. P. and his brother Thomas Story erected the Stock Exchange on Spring Street. To read a detailed account of Story, please see Paul R. Spitzzeri’s wonderful post on the Homestead Museum blog. W. P. Story also had an illustrious military career, which you may read about here.
In 1923 Story purchases a 16-acre plot of land off Laurel Canyon in Studio City, and built a large Spanish Colonial Revival estate. It was of enough importance to be featured in Architectural Digest in 1925.
The architectural firm for the Story Estate was Ruoff & Munson, comprised of Allen Kelly Ruoff (12 March 1894 – 15 November 1945) and Arthur Case Munson (10 December 1886 – 28 April 1969).
A. C. Munson (left), Allen Ruoff (right)
Ruoff & Munson worked primarily, though not exclusively, in the Spanish vernacular, such works featured again in The Architectural Digest, for example, the incredible estate of Wyoming oilman Eugene T. Williams in La Habra Heights:
After Ruoff and Munson dissolved their partnership in January 1926, Ruoff was featured any number of times—
But back to the Ruoff & Munson house on Fryman Road. According to the Historic Resources Inventory, prepared by Historic Places LA, W. P. Story’s house appeared eligible for local and state designation as a historic resource, and eligible for the National Register:
Of course, some people couldn’t give a flying fuck about any of that.
Enter Robert Diaz and Mark Panasuk.
What kind of people are they? The kind who see a listing like this:
...buy it, and replace it with a beige box. So yeah, more of those guys.
The whole Diaz/Panasuk oeuvre is so grey and beige, they practically invented greige.
And you, you shall love it, because you need a lesson in serene minimalism.
So, therefore, goes the hundred-year-old Spanish Colonial by Ruoff & Munson:
All so we can have more giant-ass greige boxes (I'm sorry, I mean "luxury homes" for "celebrity clientele") which look more like hotels than houses. (I just linked to Kate Wagner, which I feel like doing again, as she speaks with erudition and insight on the state of modern built America.)
Don't get me wrong, Diaz/Panasuk developments are still better than Tripalink, but that's not saying much. And I haven't seen Tripalink demolish a Ruoff & Munson...yet.
About Nathan Marsak
NATHAN MARSAK says: “I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory. In college I studied under Banham. I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions). In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document. I drove about shooting neon signs. I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). But in short order one landmark after another disappeared. Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good. The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop. (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t. Principiis obsta, finem respice.) And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!””
Nathan’s blogs are: Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles & On Bunker Hill.